Can you describe the design landscape at the time that the Women’s Design + Research Unit was formed?
Women’s Design + Research Unit (WD+RU) was formed in 1994. The 1990s had such energy. The previous decade had been characterized by a kind of thinking around postmodernism and the digital realm, which informed new kinds of radical visual and typographic experimentation. By the following decade, designers rebelled against the slickness of computer-generated work, morphing into a gritty, grunge aesthetic; post-punk and culturally astute. David Carson had declared the ‘end of print’ whilst Neville Brody launched Fuse – an experimental typography publication. Brody and Carson had become the faces of graphic design; you couldn’t flip through any magazine without some mention of them.
At the same time, graphic designers were becoming more vocal about the politics of design and their role in being socially responsible. At the end of the 1990s the First Things First Manifesto 2000 was published, offering a critique of the role of design in contemporary consumer culture. This signaled a paradigm shift in how designers employed their skills as communicators and for whom.
What first prompted you to form WD+RU?
WD+RU came about partially in response to what was a highly visible male dominated graphic design profession. This was in evidence during the FUSE ’94 conference where on stage a group of all male, white, middle class type designers stood before the audience for the finale. Now, don’t get us wrong, we have great admiration for these amazing guys, but the event did prompt us to ask: where are the women?
Shortly thereafter, Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft asked us to contribute to FUSE - the experimental digital typography magazine - for an issue on the theme of ‘Propaganda’. We couldn’t refuse. This was an opportunity to raise awareness about women working in the profession whilst also critically engaging through an experimental typeface with the language used by, for, and against women. We named the typeface ‘Pussy Galore’ after the fabulous character played by Honor Blackman in the James Bond film Goldfinger. ‘Pussy Galore’ was created by the founding members of WD+RU: Liz McQuiston, Siân Cook and Teal Triggs.